When Promoted Trends on Twitter just don’t make Sense

I have been an avid follower of Promoted Trends on Twitter. Not because I find them interesting, but because I find they’re used incorrectly by many businesses.

Twitter displays trends along the left-hand side of a user’s homepage, and are based on terms that have shown up frequently in recent tweets by users. The trends displayed are typically based on the type of people a user follows, as well as their geography (US trends will show up to users who have selected this option, whereas worldwide trends will show for users who have not selected this option. This can also be done for large cities). The thought is that any topic that gathers buzz is displayed here, so users can be kept up to date for what people are talking about.  It’s common to see news stories, TV shows, holidays, and days of the week trending (such as TGIF). When a user clicks on the trend, they’re taken to an RSS feed of tweets that mention the topic.

Promoted Trends are an ad unit developed by Twitter. They were created to allow businesses the opportunity to be featured within the trends area of the site. A promoted word or phrase is selected by the brand. They then create and post tweets including this word and opt to have these tweets linked to the phrase. When users click on the promoted phrase, they’re taken to a list of tweets that include this word, and the brand’s tweets are shown at the top of page.

The placement is supposed to do a few things for the business. First, it’s supposed to provide exposure. As users click on the trend, they’re supposed to see the brand’s tweet at the top of the page, and hopefully click on it. Secondly, it’s supposed to increase engagement. Besides clicking on the link, brands want users to reply to it and retweet it to their followers. Social media is all about engaging, and this is what Twitter hopes users do with Promoted Trends.

twitter promoted trend fail marketing social Sprint Bryan Nagy

The problem: users are engaging with the tweets, but not the way brands are hoping. For one, many times users simply use the promoted trends to promote their own tweets in hopes to grow their follower base. As you see above, Sprint’s Promoted Trend on Twitter hasn’t engaged any users to actually talk about the Sprint brand. Second, when users do engage with the trend, it sometimes Turns negative. There are countless case studies showing Promoted Trends on Twitter gone wrong, where users actually use the trend to say bad things about the brand, make jokes, and complain.

So are Promoted Trends a bad idea? Should brands just stay far, far away from them?

My feeling is no. Brands just need to be smart about using them. A few best practices:

1. If you’re a company that gets complaints a lot already, especially on social media, expect them with Promoted Trends. Keep in mind that this increases the visibility of the complaints. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it- it might not be, and in this case, you should probably avoid Promoted Trend on Twitter.

2. Make your tweets engaging. Just as you would for your social media strategy, ensure your tweets are worthy of engagement. Simply hoping users will click on a link doesn’t take advantage of social media at all. Make them exciting and something users would want to reply to. There’s a great case study of a company which told a story with their Promoted Trend on Twitter. Users who clicked on the link were taken to another tweet, which took them to another, which lead them to another, and so on. The entire story was told with each tweet, meaning users had to click on tweets to read the rest of the story. This lead to increased user engagement and increased the time users spent with the brand.

3. Be smart about the trend you promote. Try not to choose something that isn’t relevant to your tweets or might cause controversy. For example, Sprint could have chosen a better trend which might have increased the amount of users actually tweeting about the brand and not themselves. McDonald’s also famously used the trend “McDStories” in which users jumped on to tell horrible stories about the food chain.

Disclaimer: My views do not represent my opinions of the brands or the agencies that represent the brands.